WALTHAM – There was a lighter mood at the Celtics' practice facility Thursday afternoon, with the team on its first four-game winning streak of the season, and with four straight home games ahead.
Feeling goofy, Paul Pierce even launched a halfcourt shot to decide whether or not he would speak to the media. He missed.
“We just can’t get too comfortable,” Pierce said. “We just have to keep being consistent in everything we do, understand why we are winning these games and continue to do that. This is a great stretch for us and we have to take advantage.”
While everyone on the Celtics lauded the performance of the second unit in Wednesday’s 87-79 win over the Suns, not to be forgotten was the fact that the starting lineup played poorly enough to earn their seats on the bench.
“We won the game, but I didn’t necessarily think we played great,” coach Doc Rivers said Thursday. "That’s a good sign. Early in the year, that’s a loss for sure. I thought our bench bailed us out, but our starters have to be better every night, too. Not just the bench. When you put them both together, those are the games you have great games. That’s what we’re still striving for.”
Rivers was forced to play Jason Collins, the only true center that was available off the bench, for a few minutes Wednesday even though he said he is trying to avoid using Collins while he deals with hamstring and ankle ailments.
Chris Wilcox, who has been sidelined with a sprained right thumb, returned to practice Thursday for the first time since suffering the injury in late December.
Wilcox was expected to be out about a month.
"He’s ahead [of schedule]," Rivers said. "I don’t know what that means, because I don’t really know what the schedule was. But it’s funny, [trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] told me yesterday that he’s ahead of schedule, and I said, ‘Well, I never knew what the schedule was.’ I guess that’s good news. That’s all I can tell you."
Also in Waltham was center Fab Melo, the first-round pick from Syracuse who has been with the team since sustaining a concussion during his time with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League.
Celtics officials said Melo had not yet been cleared for contact, though, and was not allowed to participate in team activities until he is cleared by the league. It is expected that Melo will return to the D-League when healthy.
On Friday, the Celtics will host the Houston Rockets, who have won seven of their last 10 games and are leading the NBA in scoring with 106 points per game.
“I think a lot of people underrate them,” Pierce said. “The past two weeks I’ve seen them put up 120 points I don’t know how many times. I think the energy James Harden has brought to the team and the city has really helped them. A lot of people think they’re overachieving, but they’re right there with some of the better teams in the Western Conference.”
NOTE: Appearing on WEEI radio Thursday morning, Rivers disputed rumors that Kevin Garnett mentioned Carmelo Anthony’s wife during a verbal exchange against the Knicks Monday. “I know what's been reported did not happen," Rivers said. "I know that as a fact." Both players received a technical foul, and Anthony was suspended one game for seeking out Garnett after the game.